In a troubling display of political retribution, two Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson, were recently expelled by the Republican supermajority in the Tennessee House for violating decorum rules. Their transgression? Participating in a protest on the House floor advocating for gun control in the wake of a tragic school shooting in Nashville. This vote marked the first time in Tennessee’s history that expulsion has been wielded as a partisan weapon against lawmakers on the other side of the aisle.

This act reeks of hypocrisy, sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens the foundation of free speech and democratic representation in our society.

Anyone who believes in liberty must acknowledge that each individual’s right to express their opinions and ideas, even ones we disagree with, is a cornerstone of our nation’s values. History has shown us that civil disobedience and protest can drive meaningful change.

Recently, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee have had their fair share of scandals. A Waynesboro lawmaker confessed to abuse of children on tape, the top aide for the former Republican Speaker admitted to doing cocaine in legislative offices, there are allegations of lawmakers peeing on other lawmaker’s chairs, and even a serving Senator who was caught prescribing opioids to his family members. Expulsion for these individuals was never brought to a vote.

Partisan expulsions, like those of Jones and Pearson, set a dangerous precedent for future political discourse, paving the way for expulsion to be weaponized against political opponents. In doing so, dissenting voices are silenced, and genuine debate is stifled, deepening the rift between opposing parties in a time of heightened political polarization.

While it is important to acknowledge that the expelled lawmakers did break House rules, expulsion seems like a disproportionate response to their actions. Jones and Pearson were already reprimanded through, among others, the removal of their committee assignments. Expulsion should be reserved for serious criminal offenses, not used as a tool to silence dissenting voices.

Additionally, the Tennessee GOP’s decision to silence these lawmakers may also have unintended consequences with the younger electorate. Gen Z, a generation that values open discourse and social justice, may perceive this act of censorship as a betrayal of democratic principles. The expulsion risks further alienating a generation that will play a pivotal role in future elections.

These recent expulsions underscore the perils of partisan politics and will likely trigger tit-for-tat escalations in the future, continuing our societal progression deeper into a partisan death spiral. We must demand fair treatment for all lawmakers, regardless of political affiliation.

As Americans, we must stand together to defend free speech, even for people we disagree with. Those who want to protect the Second Amendment will never do so by dissolving the First Amendment.

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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.